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February 1, 2008

Ma’am is the polite term used by people in customer service. Sometimes it gets a little overused and sometimes Filipinos use it for white women or to fill space while they look for a word. I was on a very crowded public jeepney when I had this conversation with Sunny, a male college student who lived in my host family’s community in Sanghay. Everyone around us can hear this conversation.

Me (in broken Visiya): How many brothers and sisters do you have?
Sunny (in beautifully spoken Enlish): We are a dozen, ma’am. Twelve brothers and sisters in all.
Me (genuinely shocked): Wow! That’s huge, even for a Filipino family!
Sunny: Well, ma’am, you see, ma’am. My mother, ma’am, doesn’t use… contraceptives, ma’am.
(The people around us nod in agreement, as if to say, “It’s true, we know this woman. No contraceptives.”)
Me: Oh. Umm…
Sunny: Yes, ma’am.

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